Women’s League Reads

You are invited to join Women’s League Reads, a worldwide conversation about books of interest to today’s Jewish women.  Women’s League Reads is a moderated online discussion group, via Google Groups, for members of Women’s League in which everyone is invited to post comments, ask questions and make observations about the book.

Membership in Women’s League Reads is open only to members in good standing of Women’s League-affiliated sisterhoods or to individual members who have paid dues directly to Women’s League. You may subscribe to by contacting Lois Silverman, Internet Services Chair, at lsilverman@wlcj.org, with your e-mail address, sisterhood name/town/state, or individual member information, and thereby join the online group for book news and discussions. For other questions and comments, contact Vivian Leber at vleber@wlcj.org.

Check out more book recommendations from our members on Book Corner, now updated for 2019!

Find even more previous Book Club picks and study guides here!

Women’s League Reads is excited to announce our next featured book and author interview, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas. An exclusive, WL members-only author interview will be held on Wednesday, July 17, at 8:30 p.m., Eastern time. Register to become a Woman’s League member here.

Based on this remarkable historical novel, Michael David Lukas has just received the 2019 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature by the Jewish Book Council. The book also received the 2018 National Jewish Book Award.  Available in hardcover, paperback, and audio editions, it is a story about honor, love, forgiveness, and shared humanity.

The three story threads are based on the one-thousand years of Jewish presence and integration in Egyptian-Muslim society, which closed with Egyptian nationalism in the 1950s and the ensuing expulsion of native Jews along with “foreigners.” When Lukas spent his junior year of college in 2000 in Cairo, he discovered the historic Ben Ezra Synagogue of Old Cairo, where Solomon Schechter had recovered the treasures of its Geniza. Serendipitously, on a plane ride, Lukas once sat next to a Muslim woman who shared that her ancestors had been “synagogue watchmen,” a hereditary position of honor, wherein Jewish leaders, in cities from North Africa to India, consigned the duty to guard a synagogue’s Torah scrolls and property to a local Muslim family.

The novel’s protagonist, Joseph/Yusef, was the Californian son of two Egyptians, a Jewish mother and Muslim father who met in graduate school and then separated. He flew to Cairo after his father’s death to unravel his mysterious past. His father had been the “last watchman” of the Ben Ezra synagogue and bequeathed to Joseph a scrap from the geniza, which had been a gift to his ancestor. Another thread relates the tale of the very first watchman, his ancestor 800 years earlier, when Jewish leaders, fearing that thieves were after the mystically powerful Ezra Torah Scroll, engaged the very first watchman. Still, another thread takes us to 1896, when Solomon Schechter improbably partnered with two quirky sisters, Scottish biblical scholars, to export the Geniza contents to Cambridge University.

The novel is beautifully written and, in just 265 pages, empathetically but realistically portrays the complex characters. It’s a timeless story about a place and period we seldom study or think of. The author finds hopeful sparks in the interdependence and mutual respect that had once enabled Jewish culture to thrive alongside Islam.

Photo: Irene Young

Read Jewish Book Council’s review of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo here!

Conversations with the chosen authors and scholars:

  • To listen to our conversation with Gateway to the Moon author Mary Morris, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Odessa, Odessa author Barbara Artson, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with If All the Seas Were Ink author Ilana Kurshan, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, author of Waking Lions, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Dara Horn, author of Eternal Life, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Inkclick here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Jennifer S. Brown, author of Modern Girls, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Deborah Tannen, author of You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Betsy Lerner, author of The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir, click here.
  • To listen to our inter-generational conversation with Erica Perl, author of When Life Gives You OJ, click here.
  • To listen to our cooking lesson with Mollie Katzen, author of The Moosewood Cookbookclick here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Lauren Belfer, author of And After the Fire, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Sarit Yishai-Levi, author of The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Joy Ladin, author of Through the Door of Life:  A Jewish Journey Between Genders, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Phyllis Chesler, author of An American Bride in Kabul, click here.
  • To listen to our conversation with Gina Nahai, author of The Luminous Heart of Jonah S, click here.
  • To listen to our interactive, inter-generational program for Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family, click here.

To join Women’s League Reads, click here. Include your name, email, sisterhood, or notice that you are an individual member of Women’s League (not a member of a sisterhood). In addition to reading together, we look forward to sharing some exciting benefits of participation in this group.